These days, smartphones are so pervasive that just about everyone over the age of 10 seems to be carrying one. And the market is cooperating to make that feasible. Wireless carriers are more competitive than ever, and phone prices have dropped to the point where many a family of four can afford to have every member of the household—with the possible exception of Rover—have a handset. Not only that, but it’s practical, too.
It’s great when a connected family uses technology to keep in touch with one another, but losing the personal connection is easier than you might like. Think about how many times you’ve been to a restaurant and seen a couple sitting across from each other staring into their phones?
To be honest, I’ve relied on my phone to act as a makeshift babysitter more than a few times over the years. Cranky toddler, meet mesmerizing color display—it works for at least a couple of minutes, anyway. I’m also guilty of checking scores or sneaking off to use Reddit while waiting for my waiter to bring dinner.
Ultimately, isolation by phone may be a sociological phenomenon. But what if we could take that same down time and turn it into family-friendly game time? What if the next time you buried your face in the screen, you were competing against the kids across the table?
I’ve gathered five recent, family-friendly games from the Google Play Store and iTunes that are at least somewhat popular. Because these games were designed with competition in mind, they feature rankings, achievements, leaderboards, and other fun stuff to keep players engaged. Try 'em out on your brood of phone gazers.
An obvious choice for any game list from 2016, this one is great for anyone who needs an excuse to get outside. Players walk around in the real world trying to collect the titular pocket monsters—which hop out of nowhere, daring you to throw balls at them to acquire them for your portfolio.
With more than 140 different Pokémon to gather, you’ll have to put in some serious leg work as you hunt down Pikachu and pals. That is, of course, if you care about filling your Pokédex with every character. Otherwise, play it however you want.
Some players look to rank up as quickly as possible, gathering up anything and everything they come across. To them there’s nothing like the thrill of taking down a local gym and replacing it with their own combatants. More-casual players might enjoy milling around town, collecting only the specimens they think are cute. Others may treat the app as a convenient excuse to visit local parks or monuments to meet new people. Kids love playing it as much as they do teaching others the lineages of the various critters or sharing strategies and tips on catching them.
The game came out of nowhere this summer, but already the huge wave of initial interest has died down somewhat. Which is fine, because playing conditions have never been better. After fixing some pesky problems that emerged in the first few weeks, the developers have added new features and mechanics. And things may just be getting started—there are more than 700 potential Pokémon in all.
With kids back in school, it’s a perfect opportunity for mom and dad to level up or find a rare Pokémon. Come the weekend, and with nice weather to wander about in, it’s a great way to spend a few hours together. Just watch where you’re going and use your noodle.
He may be 35 years old now, but he hasn't lost a step. In fact, Pac-Man has gotten a second (or is it third?) lease on life with mobile devices. The past few years have witnessed the arrival of numerous games featuring the iconic yellow fella, none of which require quarters or tokens.
Pac-Man Pop is the latest title based on the Pac-Man character—and it’s unlike any of its predecessors. Instead of gobbling pellets and running from ghosts, players are asked to match three or more colored bubbles together. The premise has been around for ages, but with Pac-Man’s likeness added to the mix, it feels fresh.
With hundreds of levels to challenge you, the free game starts out simple and hooks you right away. You’ll be competing with the rest of the family in no time as you look to blow through the levels. Each time out, the game gives you a task such as collecting pets or gathering fruit or shooting ghosts. You’ll need to think strategically, since you have only so many balls to work with.
Along the way you’ll pick up various power ups and boosters to help you get out of a pinch. And though you don’t have to pay to play, you can avail yourself of in-app purchases (Pac-Coins) that range in price from $1 to $50. These coins can be quite handy at moments when you are ever so close to completing a level or just need a backup plan.
The only other thing you have to figure out is whether completing a level with one star is as good as taking additional shots at it and eventually getting three. Think carefully: Family bragging rights may depend on it.
Farm Heroes Super Saga
In all likelihood you’ve either played or seen someone close to you play Candy Crush Saga in the past few years. It's one of the most popular games of all time, and its addictive mechanics have us pulling out our phones on a regular basis. Now the game's developers, King, are back with another title that promises to chew up your free time.
There's no mistaking Farm Heroes Super Saga for anything but a sibling to its predecessor. Players are must match at least three fruits or vegetables to remove them from the board and put them into wooden crates. Each level requires you to harvest a set number of each food item before you can progress to the next level.
The game starts out incredibly easy, but soon enough it sinks its teeth into you. The cartoon graphics and sounds are cute and friendly, stopping just short of being uncool for adults. Before you know it, you’ll be ten levels deeper in, with no exit in sight.
Mechanics change every few levels as new variables appear—and it’s hard to get complacent when shake-ups occur so often. Also, at various times, you’ll unlock tools that you can use to clear boards.
Should you run out of moves and boosters, you can make in-app purchases (using real money) to obtain needed items. And if you happen to run out of lives and want to get back in quickly, you can ask other players. But do you want to give mom that advantage or make her wait it out?
Dots & Co.
A successor to the popular casual game Two Dots, Dots & Co delivers more than 150 levels of relaxed puzzlers. You simply connect colored dots together at a leisured pace, trying to clear a set number of them before running out of moves. Along the way you'll encounter travel companions who provide assistance in the forms of boosts.
The graphics are flat and minimal, the music is chill, and the whole vibe is relaxed. Nothing here is going to induce anxiety; and kids have all the time they need to plan their moves and anticipate the consequences. The first few levels are fairly easy and help you build up your confidence before new complications appear. Things unfold evenly over time as the game gets progressively harder.
Because it takes advantage of Google Play Games and Apple Game Center, Dots & Co lets players sync their play across devices. You can log in to see which achievements you’ve unlocked, too. For purposes of intra-family competition, you could make the goal not who can get to level 20 first but who can collect 500,000 dots first.
Doodle Jump DC Super Heroes
What happens when you combine the game Doodle Jump with Batman and other comic book heroes and villains? You get with Doodle Jump DC Super Heroes. Yep, the lovable little alien is back, and this time he’s dressing up as your favorite crime fighter.
My son gets credit for putting me on to this one. I noticed that he was spending a lot of free time playing it; and when I asked him why he was back to playing Doodle Jump, he explained that this version let him take on the role of Batman as he jumps his way skyward. Along the path you’ll encounter various nemeses such as The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, The Joker, The Riddler, and Bane.
True to addictive gameplay form, this game involves picking up crystals throughout the journey, which you can redeem for power ups, protection, and other helpful stuff. Even better, you can unlock different versions of Batman costumes. Want to play as '70s Batman? Sure you do. Altogether, the game offers ten variations of Caped Crusader couture, which you can unlock at different stages.
This is only the beginning for Doodle Jump DC Super Heroes. Future chapters promise to bring other heroes into the fold. I'm already looking forward to the arrival of Superman, Wonder Woman, and other Justice League players. But of course, no matter who you are and how you’re dressed, winning still comes down to a matter of how high you can jump.
You have lots of choices when it comes to games that are safe for the entire family. Besides the five outlined here, you might want to try Crossy Road, Clash of Clans, Minecraft: Pocket Edition, and any of the Lego-branded games. There’s a lot of fun to be had with family-friendly mobile games, whether played cooperatively or competitively.